Coming off a thrilling overtime win over the Sacramento Kings, the Milwaukee Bucks hit the road to take on a Central Division rival in the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Things got much more challenging for Milwaukee when it was announced hours before the game that Giannis Antetokounmpo would not play with a shoulder contusion. However, even without their star player in the lineup, this was a game the Bucks could still have won if others stepped up accordingly. Instead, everyone took a massive step back.
Milwaukee came out lifeless right away and immediately found themselves in a 20-point hole after the Cavaliers went up 22-2. After a mini-surge to end the first quarter, things only got worse for the Bucks, who were trailing by as many as 47 points. In the end, Milwaukee suffered an incredibly embarrassing loss to Cleveland, losing 135-95.
This was just foul to witness.
Giannis Antetokounmpo's MVP odds should rise tenfold after Bucks' loss to Cavaliers
Giannis not being in the lineup is no excuse for the Bucks losing by 40 points. The Cavaliers were dealing with injuries of their own, playing without two key cogs in Darius Garland and Evan Mobley. Yet, they managed to go up by nearly 50 points on a team that was fully healthy outside of their top player. They embraced a "next man up" mentality that the Bucks failed to even think about.
To be clear, a loss without Giannis would typically not be the end of the world. The league is full of talented teams, and replacing the Greek Freak is no easy feat. However, to come out as lifeless and sloppy as Milwaukee did is where things get unacceptable. It's just not the type of play that one of the league's premier contenders can showcase.
It all starts with Milwaukee's star players. Khris Middleton could not find any semblance of a groove, having scored just two points on 1-of-10 shooting in just under 20 minutes. Damian Lillard was much more productive with 17 points, but he shot just 7-of-20, including 1-of-5 from deep. These are the types of games that these two players should take over, but they failed to do so.
This was also a perfect game for Malik Beasley to pop off, but he couldn't get anything going either with just two points on 1-of-6 shooting. Brook Lopez was efficient by shooting 5-of-7 from the floor, but he scored just 11 points. Rounding out the starters, Andre Jackson Jr. had another solid game by tallying six points and eight rebounds while being one of the few to play nice defense.
Two of the better performances from the Bucks came off of the bench. Bobby Portis had 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting while also grabbing six boards. Jae Crowder, making his return from surgery that had him sidelined for the last two months, had an encouraging performance with 15 points on four made 3-pointers. It's great to have him back in the lineup, as the Bucks will need him.
As a whole, Milwaukee's defense was just outright abysmal in this one. Players looked lost, and there was seemingly miscommunication every trip down the floor. Some people want to point the finger at Coach Adrian Griffin, while others blame the players. Truly, everyone holds some blame for just how sluggish this team has been on that side of things all season. They need to clean it up.
Milwaukee's poor defensive effort helped fuel a career night for Georges Niang, who scored a new career-best 33 points on 13-of-14 shooting, including 5-of-6 from deep. Milwaukee provided simply no resistance whenever Niang had the ball, leaving him wide open from deep or giving him a clean runway to the hoop. It was beyond frustrating.
Meanwhile, the same was true for Cleveland's Donovan Mitchell, who had 31 points with little to no difficulty whatsoever.
Adding Giannis into the lineup may help, but he's not going to fix this poor defense. Something has to change, whether it's a trade, the players locking in more, or the coaching staff tweaking philosophies. One thing is clear: after seeing how the full-strength Bucks play without Giannis, his MVP odds must shoot through the roof. He's more than deserving, as this unit didn't even look like a team without him.
Stay tuned for more Milwaukee Bucks analysis.